The news went viral nearly a month after the killing: a black teenager shot dead at night while wearing a hoodie. Happens all the time, right? Just one of those sad facts of contemporary life in America. Nothing to see here, folks… move on, please… please move on.
But America didn’t move on. Trayvon Martin has become world-famous in death, something he never could have foreseen and never would have desired. Better to be alive and obscure and residing in Florida with most of your life ahead of you. Too late now.
Trayvon Martin didn’t deserve to be lying mute in an underground box at the age of 17. Nobody does. He committed no offense to warrant such a fate. He was simply returning from the convenience store and chatting with his girlfriend on his cell phone, a scene that could be replicated a million times across America on any given evening.
And yet here we are, still trying to grasp the elusive facts in a case that won’t go away. Was neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman out for blood or just taking his job a little too seriously? Was he a racist? Was he unjustly profiling an African American youth who happened to be strolling inside a gated community? Did he shoot Trayvon in cold blood… or, as he claimed, did he act in self-defense? Why didn’t the police in Sanford, Florida, take Zimmerman into custody so the facts could be determined in court? Were they racists? If George Zimmerman had been black and Trayvon Martin white, wouldn’t the police have made an arrest? Where do you draw the line between “standing your ground” and murder?
Actually, a number of right-wing websites did just that — and I suspect their motives, too. (Clean-cut vigilante for law and order; surly black gangsta kid with gold teeth. Yeah, that’s the ticket.)
Whether Zimmerman’s photos make him look like a sociopathic loser or a nice guy should be immaterial to the case. Ditto for the angelic young Trayvon vs. the funky older Trayvon. There are photographs of Lincoln in which he looks seedy and disheveled, just as there are photographs of an affable-looking Stalin.
Photographs can be indispensable clues, but our biases, conscious or not, have a way of tampering with the evidence. The ideal pictorial approach to the Trayvon Martin case would have been to show both sets of photos, because the case is that complicated.
That’s exactly what I’ve done here. Neither man was all saint or all villain, and it’s instructive to see both sides of their natures with our own eyes. The impact might have been even more powerful if the photos had been black and white. Not only for the racial implications, but because even black-and-white photos aren’t simply black and white. They have a way of teasing our eyes with all those ambiguous shades of gray.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.
Founder-editor of The New Moderate, a blog for the passionate centrist who would go to extremes to fight extremism. Disgruntled idealist… author of The Cynic’s Dictionary… inspired by H. L. Mencken… able to leap small buildings in several bounds. Lives with his son in a century-old converted stable in Philadelphia.